At Alter Farms, producing top-quality cannabis is truly a labor of love
BY GREG JAMES — Southern Oregon has long been recognized as one of the most beautiful places in the western United States. Blessed with lots of sun and a wide variety of ecological wonders, including two mountain ranges, a spectacular coastline, wild rivers and the northern end of the giant coast redwoods forest, it’s hard to imagine a location better suited for cannabis cultivation — or a more welcoming spot for those who want to grow it.
Alter Farms partners Jodi Haines, Cody Alter and Jason Rambo believe strongly in both the intrinsic value of cannabis and the conservation ethos that many Southern Oregon residents have had for generations. Located near Grants Pass and close to the wild and scenic Rogue River, Alter Farms represents the epitome of what it means to care about the quality of marijuana.
“How can you not fall in love with a plant that brings people together and that also has abundant medical applications?” Haines asks.
Others may embrace marijuana cultivation as a business opportunity, but with Haines and the Alter Farms team, the concern and love for the plant is more than a slogan or a marketing line; it runs through them as richly as the soil they till.
Mark Twain once said, “The secret of success is making your vocation your vacation.” His words ring especially true at Alter Farms, where cultivating cannabis is a true labor of love.
The wine business has long embraced the notion of terroir. Simply put, it’s the combination of climate, soil, water and other environmental factors that influence the taste and “nose” of fine vintages. For Alter Farms, the Southern Oregon growing conditions have the same impact on cannabis.
Haines admits that at this early stage in the legalization process, adaptation is the order of the day.
“In a lot of ways we are all just starting to learn what this plant can do,” she says. “As a grower, cannabis is a fascinating species and is so responsive and complex that we are constantly challenging ourselves to get better and better.
“We get to grow this plant that we love right out in the open, in the Oregon sunshine, as part of a movement to help bring an end to 80 years of prohibition. And, we can share it with thousands of other people who will love it too.”
Haines believes the farm’s geographical location may be ideal for producing some of the best marijuana flower on the planet. With rich soil, healthy forests and clean, clear mountain water, the environmental conditions lend themselves to a vision of purity that is rare in other locations. Could this be why so many have historically chosen the area as a site for their legendary bud production?
The Alter Farms ownership team is committed to growing the best flower possible.
From the onset, their commitment to excellence also applied to the methods they would use. In Haines’ view, the right way to grow superb cannabis is no different than creating top-quality organic fruits or fine wine.
“We are Clean Green Certified and proud to support efforts to distinguish and legitimize organic growing practices,” Haines says. “We’re really excited about the important work that is going on now to establish meaningful and coherent standards in areas like clean inputs, sustainable methods and fair labor practices.”
Oregonians traditionally value craft and the growth of specialty cultivators is developing rapidly.
Some of the Alter Farms growing methods parallel those used by all top-quality organic farmers. The farm grows in native soil and natural sunlight. It uses cover crops and compost to increase organic matter and the tilth of their land. It’s a system that creates a virtuous cycle: Balancing and re-mineralizing the soil; increasing the humus content and biological diversity; and creating a natural, diverse ecosystem in and around the plants.
Haines does not mince words when it comes to how the farmers nurture their cannabis: “We are not fertilizer applicators, we are farmers. Fertilizers can dominate much of the plant’s expressions (traits). We believe that the plant’s natural expressions are achieved though facilitating a symbiotic relationship with the soil and climate it is grown in.”
Bringing the plant’s natural expressions to the consumer drove Alter Farms’ motivation to offer an alternative experience. Do things correctly and, in Haines’ words, “the magic follows.”
Strains and Curing
Cannabis aficionados love to talk about their strains, and the Alter Farms team is no different. Currently, the farm grows more than 60 cultivars and has an extensive seed library.
Haines believes the Southern Oregon topography and its many varied micro-climates strongly influence local tastes and preferences.
“The environment is great for cultivation all over southern Oregon, but because of the topographical differences between river valleys and mountaintops, different cultivators gravitated to different cultivars,” Haines says.
At Alter Farms, two well-acclimated favorites are Pineapple and a unique Purple Hindu Kush. The Alter Farms Purple Hindu and Pineapple finished first and second, respectively, for THC content in the outdoor division of the Cultivation Classic in 2016. For 2017, the company has a new and exciting pheno called Purple Wild Fire, which according to Haines, has a unique and powerful smell, the likes of which they’ve never experienced.
If the Alter team sounds highly focused on the way they grow their cannabis flower, they are just as fanatical about its cure. According to Haines, the cure must be done correctly to achieve superior results.
“The duration of the cure is strain-specific and requires diligent attention with each different cultivar,” she says. “Not only is climate-controlling extremely important, but how long it hangs, how it is handled and what receptacle you cure the flower in all play a critical role in achieving extra smooth and flavorful cannabis.”
At Alter Farms, there is a genuine love of the cannabis plant. Everything the farmers do reflects that love, from the way the plants are grown, to the cure, to the way their organic style cultivation techniques respect Mother Earth. Southern Oregon will likely see some spectacular new cannabis farms in the coming years, and Alter Farms will be at the forefront, creating superior bud with a dedication to detail.